Dinosaurs and diplomas | AUA Blog

It all seemed so simple and straightforward at the time; three study days, a couple of assignments, and job done. Easy, right – what could possibly go wrong? Well, the birth of our first child (currently, three years on, racing around the house claiming to be a T-Rex), a car accident, and a change of job role for starters. Plus all the standard “Life’s what happens when you’re making other plans” day-to-day stuff. So, yeah; perhaps not quite as easy as you may have first been led to believe. Still, there’s a “Graduation 2019” invitation sitting on my desk as I type, so certainly not insurmountable. I guess I must be doing something right.


Alex Holmes
Assistant Registrar (Joint Working)
University of Oxford


It’s a funny thing, University administration; who wakes up one morning, mid-teens and facing the dreaded Options “what I choose now decides the rest of my life” decision and says “I want to be an Assistant Registrar”? I certainly didn’t. (And it doesn’t, by the way; over the last twenty-ahem years I’ve been a musician, worked in retail, newspapers, business finance, private education, several charities, and as a nurse, before ending up here). I completed my undergraduate degree in 2003 (for those of you trying to do the maths, I was a mature student then, too, at least in name), so despite my initial bravado (“3,000 words? Pah, I’ve written longer emails!”) in reality writing academic essays again after a gap of over a decade was a bit of a culture shock. Still, some early tutor feedback, some decent essay-writing discussions with peers, and suddenly the word-count ticked by and those first two study days and ‘Year 1’ results faded away in the rear-view mirror as Year 2’s portfolio and reflective assignment filled the horizon.

Of course, it’s all different these days (and yes, I do remember when ‘all this was just fields’); if there was one critical bit of feedback it was that the two year timeframe could be relatively easily condensed into a single year, and so the PG.Cert is now 12 months rather than 24. Whilst that might have made my life slightly easier at the time (little Henry making his entrance part way through), it might arguably have made me hesitate more about taking on the next stage of the PG. Dip, at least straight away. However, as Mrs. H. (always the voice of reason amidst my academic imposter syndrome and “I don’t want to read another journal, it’s sunny and I want to go to the pub” grumpy foot-stamping) pointed out, the old ‘journey of a 1,000 miles’ adage is generally pretty true and it’s often much easier to continue with something than it is to start it in the first place, and so, cliché’d-up to the max we dived headlong into Stage 2 and the Diploma.

That, it has to be said, felt much easier. It’s not ‘harder’ in the way that the PG.Cert is arguably more difficult than an undergraduate degree; whether it’s because it’s genuinely ‘more’ rather than ‘cleverer’, or whether it’s just that the previous two years had developed or refreshed skills I didn’t realise were there, this felt much more like plain sailing. Sure, there’s still a lot of learning, and another couple of those inconvenient ‘assignment’ things, but with a small, enthusiastic, and mutually supportive cohort (there were four of us. I’d like to pretend we didn’t bond massively over cocktails on the first night of the first Nottingham study day, but there’s a TGI Fridays over the road from the Business School, and it really had been a long day), this felt much more like fun than ‘work’.

And so the ‘three down, one more to go’ MSc decision was an easy one; this was the fun bit, after all, the part I’d been waiting for: a year working on a research project, alongside tutors and colleagues I’d already got to know and get on with. For me, this centred around professional services staff and engagement with training and career development, but it could be anything (within reason); this was something I’d never had the time to do before but a subject I felt passionately about, and this gave me the opportunity to investigate, draw conclusions, and make recommendations, in much greater depth than any anecdotal discussion or working group.

And so aside from some lifelong friendships and useful cross-institutional networking, there’s useful stuff coming out of it, too; some of the recommendations are being taken forward by my institution and I’m having ‘change’ related conversations on a regular basis. I’m hoping there’ll be a ‘proper’ journal article published, yes, but this wasn’t just an isolated, academic exercise, it was actually relevant on a day-to-day basis and could have an impact on my colleagues; in fact, the whole programme meant thinking about and reflecting on practice and asking the question “why do we do this, and how could we do it better?”. That, for me, is the whole point; how often do we think “there must be a better way of doing this” or say “someone should sort this out”?

So, there we go; almost the end. What next? Well, my little T-Rex will be going to school in the next 18 months, and those graduation robes always do look so fetching…


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